Panthers losing streak continues after 46-23 loss to Buccaneers
By Jason Huber
The Carolina Panthers lost the last four games with the opportunity to either tie it or take the lead on their final offensive drive, but on Sunday, their fifth straight loss came in blowout fashion.
In what was a tie game at the start of the second half, the Panthers offense and defense completely fell apart, leading to a lopsided 46-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I'm unbelievably disappointed in the way we played in the second half," head coach Matt Rhule said. "Completely unacceptable from every member of that locker room."
One of the biggest turning points was when Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones broke loose for a 98-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter, the longest offensive play Carolina has given up in franchise history, and the third-longest in NFL history..
The Panthers (3-7) would give up a season-high 544 total yards, third-most ever given up by a Carolina defense, and had a season low of 187 total yards on offense.
In the second half, Tampa Bay (7-3) outgained the Panthers 322 yards to 35. Moreover, the Panthers have scored just 24 points in the third quarter this season, the lowest by far in the NFL.
"We better find a way to do something better in the third quarter," Rhule said. "It's been consistent and it's one of the few things we haven't improved."
Carolina led 17-10 late in the first half as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw two touchdowns in the first quarter and had a career-high 13-straight completions, but the Panthers would only score one more touchdown the rest of the day.
Bridgewater finished the day 18-for-24 with 136 yards and an interception, averaging just 5.7 yards per pass before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
"Moving forward, all of us have to understand what just happened cannot happen," Rhule said. "We can't play like that for a half.”
Third down woes also continued for Carolina defensively and offensively.
The Panthers went 1-for-9 on third downs and allowed Tampa Bay to go 10-for-16, including 6-for-7 in the first half.
"We have to get better at them," Rhule said. "Nobody feels sorry for us. As much as I hate losing by that many points, it's the same as losing by one. You come back next week and we have to continue to improve them. We made some key stops late in the game. We blitzed them, we hit them, but we have to be better.
"I always say it starts with me and it works down."
After Jones’ touchdown, Carolina was held to a field goal and then failed miserably at a fake punt. It was the team’s third consecutive game with a fake punt.
‘I watched the momentum kind of shift for us,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “We get a great punt and then the touchdowns and it’s just like (expletive).”
The only bright spot in the second half was when backup running back Trenton Cannon returned a kickoff 98 yards before being stopped just short of the end zone.
Bridgewater punched in the touchdown to make it a one-possession game with 11:23 remaining, but the Bucs responded with touchdowns on their next two drives.
"We've got to do better," center Matt Paradis said. "We can't not perform in the third quarter and second half. We have to be able to move the ball and score points and that was not alright."
A Panthers winning season is quickly becoming out of reach as they’re in the midst of a collapse for the third straight year.
“This organization has been through seasons where we’ve lost six, seven eight games,” safety Tre Boston said. “Where do we want to go with this and where do we want to go as a team? With a team coached by Matt Rhule, we refuse to accept it.”